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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. When someone has rheumatoid arthritis, the membranes around his or her joints become inflamed and release enzymes that cause the surrounding cartilage and bone to wear away. In severe cases, other tissues and body organs also can be affected.

Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis often experience pain, swelling, and stiffness in their joints, especially those in the hands and feet. Motion can be limited in the affected joints, curtailing one’s ability to accomplish even the most basic everyday tasks. About one-quarter of those with rheumatoid arthritis develop nodules (bumps) that grow under the skin, usually close to the joints. Fatigue, anemia (low red blood cell count), neck pain, and dry eyes and mouth can also occur in individuals with the disease.

Recommended Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Traveling Pain-Free With RA

Traveling with rheumatoid arthritis is a little more complicated, but it doesn't have to be less fun. "There's no reason you can't travel just because you have RA," says Victoria Ruffing, RN, program manager at the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center in Baltimore. "You just need to take some extra precautions before you go."

Read the Traveling Pain-Free With RA article > >

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, it is estimated that about 2.1 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis. The disease occurs in all racial and ethnic groups, but affects two to three times as many women as men. Rheumatoid arthritis is more commonly found in older individuals, although the disease typically begins in middle age. Children and young adults can also be affected.

What Is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis occurs in children 16 years of age or younger. Children with severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may be candidates for glucocorticoid medication, the use of which has been linked to bone loss in children as well as adults. Physical activity can be challenging in children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, since it may cause pain. Incorporating physical activities recommended by the child’s doctor and a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D are especially important, so that these children can build adequate bone mass and reduce the risk of future fracture.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. Fractures from osteoporosis can result in significant pain and disability. It is a major health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women.

Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • thinness or small frame
  • family history of the disease
  • being postmenopausal or having had early menopause
  • abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • prolonged use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids
  • low calcium intake
  • physical inactivity
  • smoking
  • excessive alcohol intake.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease that can often be prevented. However, if it goes undetected, it can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs.

The Rheumatoid Arthritis – Osteoporosis Link

Studies have found an increased risk of bone loss and fracture in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. People with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for osteoporosis for many reasons. To begin with, the glucocorticoid medications often prescribed for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can trigger significant bone loss. In addition, pain and loss of joint function caused by the disease can result in inactivity, further increasing osteoporosis risk. Studies also show that bone loss in rheumatoid arthritis may occur as a direct result of the disease. The bone loss is most pronounced in areas immediately surrounding the affected joints. Of concern is the fact that women, a group already at increased osteoporosis risk, are two to three times more likely than men to have rheumatoid arthritis as well.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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